Fifty-nine community leaders and human rights defenders have been assassinated in Colombia in the first four months of this year, according to a think tank.
A report by Colombian NGO Indepaz showed that the murders took place throughout the country. Four more have been reported since then.
Indepaz’ figures do show a drop in murders compared to the same period in 2018 in which there were 81 assassinations.
Think tank Somos Defensores and the Ombudsman’s Office said last month that other forms of aggression, particularly death threats, have gone up.
2018 was one of the worst years for Colombia’s social leaders, and 2019 is already exponentially worse
The Ombudsman’s Office said last week that it had registered 982 threats against social leaders between March 2018 and February 2019, a 47% increase over the previous year.
The United Nations’ human rights watchdog drew attention to the violence on Thursday, arguing that “the violence has increased in line with smear campaigns launched against them”.
Both organizations have slammed the government for its failure to take action both in the prevention of violence and the effective prosecution of those behind the killings.
Impunity for attackers?
Colombia’s corruption-ridden justice system has been unable or unwilling to hold those responsible to account, Indepaz agreed.
The systematic violence…in addition to remaining unpunished and repeatedly denied by senior government and state officials, represents a grave humanitarian crisis that threatens to engulf the country.
Ombudsman analyst Carlos Guevara complained last week that authorities are ignoring his office’s warnings about possible attacks on social leaders.
Can things improve?
In an attempt to stem the tide of violence, Indepaz released a series of policy proposals in their report.
One of the main suggestions was to streamline and improve communication between national, regional and local authorities, and use of the early warning systems in place.
Another major suggestion was the dismantling of paramilitary groups as agreed in a 2016 peace agreement with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos and the now-demobilized guerrilla group FARC.
Last but not least, Indepaz urged to end the ongoing stigmatization of social leaders, particularly by authorities.